Liberalism And Cultural Encounter

Liberalism is a wide term when it comes to applying it on reality.

Liberalism and its broad content affect societies differently and on multiplayer forms, especially on cultural minorities. Therefore, ‘cultural encounter’ between the majority and the minority evolves in any country. Liberalism “stresses the right of the individual, the value of personal freedom and the idea that every human being is of equal worth.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 238). Furthermore, in applying individual rights; it must be and for all! This means it should be equal and applies to everybody, regardless of their backgrounds. In contrast, rules and policies create contradictions between ‘rights and laws’ in varied societies. The view of liberalism and cultural encounter clashes between the individual’s rights and the laws by the authorities; in result to that cultural exemptions should be considered. In addition, liberal philosophers argue that there are three types of arguments: unequal impact, analogy, and autonomy.

Liberalism is not a new term; although, the emergence to it is in the modern life; especially, in North America and Western Europe that took political shape. For many reasons liberalism has become the calling voice for individual rights. Mainly the colonial consequences are the loudest voices “Variety of minority cultures have taken Western EU lands as home, after the colonialism era.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 91).Furthermore, liberalism has a deeper root that tells us “cultural diversity” can also be a cause to liberalism. Change or development in religions, ritual practices and beliefs could also demand for liberalism, especially, when practicing these rituals as a minority. Therefore, the calling to liberalism was set a long time even before it took the colonial frame.

What is discrimination?

“When treated one group of people differently from others; then discrimination is involved in this treatment.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 99). For instance, Hindus community celebrates ritual practice Holi “Holi is a popular ancient Hindu festival.” (www). In the 80s Hindus in Bahrain were celebrating ‘festival of colors’ as Bahrainis would call it. The festival took place in the streets of the local market in the capital Manama. The celebration was followed by a complex between Hindus residence in Bahrain and Ministry of Municipality; the latest claims that the festival left stains on the streets of Manama’s market. While the revelers argue that this is a religious celebration that is equal to their religious/cultural identity. In development to the event, Ministry of Municipality enforced fees on the organizers if they do not clean after the celebration. Later, the inhabitants of the areas requested for the festival to take another place due to the noises and colors that stained the streets and also the celebration was not fitting within shopping and housing areas. Finally, Hindus were provided a free land from the government to continue celebrating their traditions. The debate remains whether this case is fair or unfair. To go back to the conflict: first, Hindus argues that this is their right to practice their beliefs. Second, Bahraini people thought that this is affecting the local cultural. Finally, Ministry of Municipality took into account the majority’s claim that the festival is not suitable to be held in a housing area and moved it to a different location. In short, discrimination in minority culture could face conflicts with the majorities; however, “cultural exemptions” could be a solution to the conflicts. Cultural exemptions are exceptions to laws or public policies. These exemptions grant members of a particular cultural group; in order to protect their cultural identity or religious practice “an exception could be provided for a particular group of people if they can prove that the action has a particular ritual or cultural importance for them.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 102). Moreover, in some cases discrimination can be fair or unfair and this is could be argued only in looking at each case closely and specifically. Other cases take relevant or irrelevant forms. For example, it would be irrelevant if the Bahraini government solved the Hindus case by stating ‘they are our favorite community; therefore, we will give them an exception to practice their rituals.’ Then this case is irrelevant to the situation.

“Difference-blind liberals argue that, when it comes to making laws and setting policies, governments should ignore differences of gender, ethnicity, culture and religion… because these are private matters. This is how difference-blind liberals interpret the claim that every human being is of equal moral worth.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 96). Looking at difference-blind liberalism, stand blindly with its rules and laws that represent governments and public policies against the minorities. Difference- blind liberalism “is a set of ideas about the way in which government and other public institutions should treat different groups of people.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 91). These laws confront the individuals’ rights, who are mostly claiming these rights to save their cultural identity. Difference-blind liberals argue using laws to precede it ‘blindly’. Three types of arguments emphasize that liberalism does not go along with difference-blind. The first argument is unequal impact “If a law or policy does not have the same impact on everybody, it is not just.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 108).

“…France has eased strictures on part‐time employment as well as limitations on night‐time and weekend work. Its governments supported the development of short‐term contracts, temporary jobs, and underpaid traineeships, and expanded the latitude of employers in hiring, firing, and the use of overtime. The result is that the number of precarious wage earners has risen from 1.7 million in 1992 to 2.8 million in 2007…”

The second argument is arguments by analogy. “Arguments by analogy are often a powerful way of identifying or highlighting general principles: spotting relevant similarities or dissimilarities between two cases can often help us to see an underlying principle at work.” (Pike, 2008, pp. 111). For example, case A: a medical Muslim student studying in the UK, requested to take 2 hours break for breaking his fast and to pray during the month of Ramadan. Case B: another student is expected to arrive soon; it is expected to receive the same request from the new student. Both of the students have similarities in their cases; which are a matter of no choice (cultural & religion) and it could be argued by analogy.

The third and final argument is autonomy. Margalit and Raz are liberal philosophers who see that difference-blind liberalism holds people’s freedom from practicing cultural, religious and rituals beliefs within majority culture. They stand with autonomy. Autonomy means self-rule. For instance, in a situation I have witnessed personally in one of the airports, a lady covering her face completely has been asked to show her face to the immigration officer for security reasons and identification. The lady has argued that she covers her face for religious reasons and she should be totally free to do so. On the other hand, the immigration officer has explained that this is a matter of people’s and her own safety, especially in a public and sensitive place like the airport. Afterwards, the lady has been asked to uncover her face to a female officer in a private room. Finally, the problem has been solved. “The right to culture is, thus, not only the right to identify with a group but the right to secure one’s personality identity. The individual in the personality sense has no less a moral and political role than the individual in the metaphysical sense.” Avishai, Halbertal (Liberalism and the Right to Culture). 

In conclusion, in looking at liberalism and cultural encounter; cultural exemptions can enhance autonomy; while applying laws blindly can erode it. Only in consideration to examine each case and not approaching it blindly or generally.